Skift Take

Barr is touting his experience in China and his company's long presence there as an advantage in understanding global consumer trends. But is that enough to raise the company's cool factor in western markets?

Now that CEO Keith Barr has taken the reigns at International Hotels Group, there are a few things he plans to do differently than his predecessor, Richard Solomons, to shake up operations at the UK-based company.

Barr, who became CEO of the UK-based company in July, reflected at the Skift Global Forum in New York in September on what technology advances will bring to the guest experience during his first year as CEO. “There are many things we can do with technology that isn’t transparent to the customer,” said Barr. “But you can also do tech for tech and add a lot of cool things that add little value to the customer journey.”

Mobile check-outs is an example of new technology that Barr said has added value to the guest experience this year. “Mobile check-out is in 2,600 hotels and we’re scaling it up,” he said. “I think we’ve had 250,000 check-outs so far. I use it all the time because it’s removed a friction point.”

Barr’s also made some changes to IHG’s organizational structure, such as consolidating the head office for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia in Europe. “At a group level, I’ve created a new chief marketing officer role focusing on brands, marketing, loyalty insights and also took the technology role and combined it with a significant portion of our commercial role because there’s a convergence of tech and commercial and treating them as two separate entities in this day and age is pretty archaic,” he said.

“Having worked in Asia, when we broke China out of Asia-Pacific, China benefitted and Asia benefitted because it had the right focus on the markets,” said Barr. “In the new structure we’re building for the company, it’s really a market focus rather than a regional focused structure.”

Regions are company constructs, said Barr. “We like to organize things a certain way so that we have a PNL that says something,” he said. “The reality is, you want to have the right go to market strategy, the right resources in place close to the coal face where things happen and that’s how we’re organizing. It’s a bit contrarian but recognizing that we really want to enable us to grow and outperform in those markets.”

Adding more lifestyle hotels, such as IHG’s recently announced Avid Hotels brand, also isn’t out of the question, said Barr. When asked if he feels consumers need another lifestyle brand, Barr responded, “If the 14 million customers in the segment that we looked at are right, yes we do,” he said. “I think it’ll be the next big thing for IHG.”

The company’s asset-light strategy is one element of Solomons’ work that Barr plans to continue. “We have 5,200 hotels around the world and 1,500 in development – we own eight,” said Barr, speaking at Skift Global Forum in New York City in September. “We’re a brand company through and through and we’re becoming more of a technology company every single day.”

Watch the entire interview above, and find more coverage of Skift Global Forum here.

At this year’s Skift Global Forum in New York City, travel leaders from around the world gathered for two days of inspiration, information, and conversation. There were interviews, and panels, as well as solo TED-like talks on the future of travel.

Visit our Skift Global Forum site for more details about 2018 events.


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Tags: ihg, sgf2017, skift global forum, video

Photo credit: IHG CEO Keith Barr, pictured here, spoke at Skift Global Forum in New York City in September. Skift

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